We are three weeks away from the First Sunday in Advent (How did THAT happen?), and the Church Year is taking us all on a very interesting journey during these last three weeks of Pentecost, the Long Green Season. The Liturgical Year / Church Year is about to end. During the last few weeks of every Liturgical Year, the Church invites each of us to remember that our own life will end one day, that history itself will one day come to an end, that Christ will return, and that we will all face judgment. This is why the lessons this week have to do with the very beginnings of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 3:1-15), the Second Coming (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17), and the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection of the dead (Luke 20:27-40). We have spent the time since Pentecost Sunday in that “long green season” maturing in the spiritual life and increasing in faith. The liturgical color of this season has been green — the verdant color of life and growing plants. Our Good Shepherd has been leading us beside still waters and making us to lie down in green pastures as He has been “growing our souls”, increasing our faith. But now the Liturgical Year is coming to its end.
But just as Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end”, so is the Liturgical Year coming to its beginning: Advent. At the close of every Liturgical Year, we look forward with renewed hope to Christ’s coming again in glory to reign as Lord forever. He will come again in glory just as surely as He came the first time — when He was born. So we have three weeks of “transition” at the end of the “long green season” into the Advent Season. See, the cool thing about the Liturgical Church Year is that it teaches us how to orient ourselves in the universe in relation to the God who came to us in Jesus Christ. As we move through the seasons of the year (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring) we are also moving through the seasons of the Church Year (Pentecost, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost). As we try to live the Liturgical Year with the Church, it is really Jesus Christ we are being oriented toward by the Liturgical Church Year. He is the “Lord of Time”, the beginning and the end, the one in Whom we live and move and have our being.
So the hymns for this week,the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost / Proper 27 / November 10, 2019 are hymns that fit the texts with their reminders that our lives and this world itself are ending and Christ is coming again. They are Wake, Awake for Night is Flying, I know that My Redeemer Lives, Jerusalem My Happy Home, and Oh What their Joy. I know that what I ordinarily do every week is point out wonderful things about the upcoming hymns that I think you might not already know. But this week, I really want you to notice what the Church Year is teaching you about your Lord and your destiny. (And if you want to see and hear the YouTube videos of these hymns, you will need to click the title of the blog.)
Wake Awake for Night is Flying is teaching you that your long-hoped-for Lord is coming at long last, like the long awaited bridegroom. “Zion hears the watchmen singing, and in her heart new joy is springing. She wakes, she rises from her gloom. For her Lord comes down all glorious. The strong in grace, in truth victorious. Her star is ris’n, her light is come. O Come, you Blessed One, Lord Jesus, God’s own Son. Sing hosanna! We go until the halls we view where You have bid us dine with You.” This is the mystical language of love between the soul and God we find in the Song of Solomon. All of the “Hosannas” that make us think of Palm Sunday when Jesus was making His Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem are intentional — we’re supposed to remember the Triumphant Entry. But this second coming when the human soul will sit down at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb will be much more ecstatic than that first Triumphant Entry. There will be no Crucifixion this time. This time Christ is returning to take possession of what He bought with His own precious blood. All of this is in this beautiful opening hymn.
The Hymn of the Day is “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”, a hymn that we associate with Easter and with funerals — but we’re SUPPOSED to make that association. “He lives triumphant from the grave; He lives eternally to save; He lives exalted throned above; He lives to rule His Church in love.” I especially love the last verse: “He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Savior, still the same; What joy this blest assurance gives: I know that my redeemer lives.” We can face even the end of the world standing firm on this assurance. Because for Christians, even the end of the world is not “the end of the world.”
For the Distribution Hymn we sing another one that is really associated with suffering and with funerals: “Jerusalem, my happy home, would God I were in thee! Would God my woes were at an end, thy joys that I might see!” And, as we all know, that day will come just as “sure as Christmas”.
Our Closing Hymn is a wonderful hymn of praise, again associated with funerals: “Oh what their joy and their glory must be, those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see! Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest; God shall be all, and in all ever blest.”
The final verse is wonderful: “Now let us worship our Lord and our King, joyfully raising our voices to sing: Praise to the Father and praise to the Son, Praise to the Spirit, to God, Three in One.” I know I said I wasn’t going to point out wonderful things about these hymns that I thought you might not already know, but I have to point out two things about THIS hymn: First of all it is by Peter Abelard who lived and praised God from 1079 – 1142 A.D. That is to say, this hymn comes from the time of the First Crusade. Peter Abelard is fascinating (you could Google him)! He was a mystic, he loved God, he suffered for love, and he lived many generations ago. Yet he was held in the arms of the same God who holds you. He loved and was loved by the same God you love and who loves you. Just as surely as he died, so shall we all someday die — unless Christ returns first … which brings us to Advent. The second thing I wanted to point out to you is that the music of this wonderful hymn is itself ancient — maybe not as ancient as Peter Abelard, but old enough. That means it has been sung by generations of Christians. They trusted the same God you trust; and they trusted Him in the face of all the unfairness and suffering life could throw at them. All of which is to say that when you live inside the Liturgical Year, reading the lessons of the lectionary and singing the hymns that fit the lessons for this Sunday as well as the Sunday of the Church Year, you have the sense that you are grounded in the universe because you are grounded in the Lord of Time — which is how the Liturgy works (seasons, lessons, hymns and all). You also have the strong assurance that you are not the first one to walk this path, that you are not the first one to trust this God, that you’re not having to “make it all up as you go along”. You are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”.
I cannot imagine anything more capable of helping you stand firm in the faith when you are struggling with ANY formidable enemy: facing your own death, facing the death of someone you love like life itself, dealing with a suffering child who refuses to make the right choices. I cannot imagine a friend more capable of helping you to remember to focus on Jesus than the Christian Liturgy.
I look forward to worshiping with you this weekend.